“Be honest. Be bold. Take risks. But work very hard.”
This February we hosted Berlin based graphic artist Patrick Thomas for our very first MATES x TOCA ME Creator’s Lab. We also took the chance and talked with him about his career path, his inspirations and the top three advices, he would give his younger self.
MATES: Hi Patrick, thanks for your time. Before we start, would you like to introduce yourself for everyone who don’t know you yet.
PATRICK: I always have problems of summing up what I do. But when pushed, I describe myself of being three things: firstly a graphic artist, not a graphic designer. Second is author; I’ve got two or three books out and a couple of more books are on the way. Third would be educator. I’m a professor of communication design at Kunst Akademie Stuttgart and a visiting lecturer at various universities across Europe.
MATES: Cool. Why a graphic artist and not a graphic designer?
PATRICK: I studied graphic design at Central Saint Martins and the Royal College of Art, specialising in illustration or image-making. But early on I decided that illustration within graphic design was too constricting. I was working a lot with text and image and have always made self-initiated work. My approach and the areas I’m working in, require a new label. My work is somewhere between art and design. So—although not ideal— when pushed, I use the hybrid term: graphic artist.
MATES: For your hybrid work field, what is the most important source of inspiration for you?
PATRICK: I sincerely believe that everything I experience, ends up feeding into or at least influencing my work somehow. Not necessarily visually, but I think the most stimulating thing is just moving around, connecting with different people, seeing different environments and observing different peoples’ approaches to work.
MATES: A lot of graphic designers out there ache for making a living from their art and not only do you commissioned work. What was the most important step for you crossing the bridge from designer to graphic artist?
PATRICK: For several years I tried to balance both things. I was running a commercial design studio in Barcelona and people kept asking me, if they could buy my work. So I looked for a way to make the work democratic and affordable and started to release editions. My idea was that I preferred make a ten things and selling them for 100 euros, rather than one thing and selling it for a thousand euros. I kind of tried to run both things, the commercial and my own work, simultaneously for a year or so and I was struggling. I was working 24-7 and making little progress. It was only when I decided to concentrate 100 percent on my own work that things started to take off. I might add that a lot of young designers think it’s an easy option to work on self-initiated projects. It’s much harder to do your own work. It’s MUCH harder. It’s a lot easier if you’ve got a deadline and a format and a brief. If everything is possible: subject, timeframe, format, it becomes incredibly difficult. But that’s why I chose to do it. I wanted the challenge. I had to take charge of my own destiny and find out for myself.
MATES: Okay, so cool. And what’s your favourite project at the moment?
PATRICK: I think OPEN_COLLAB and I’m not just saying that because I’m sitting in the MATES space in Munich about to start a session! Next week will take it to South Africa and will tour four cities, mapping local culture and mixing content from the different sessions. I end up giving a talk about the adventure at Design Indaba in Cape Town. I’m not taking a pre-prepared talk with me, it has to be whatever happens in South Africa. I’m just the right mix of excited/nervous about this.
MATES: What advice would you give young graphic artists?
PATRICK: It’s important to make yourself visible. However brilliant you are, you can’t just sit around in your bedroom, expecting that you’re gonna be discovered. You’ve got to get out there and connect, and there are amazing opportunities these days online and via social media. You can work with clients all over the world —how amazing! However, at the same time it’s a double-edged sword: it means that you are competing on global scale. Apart from that, my key advice would be to put the hours in and be prepared to work very, very hard. Be honest. Be bold. Take risks. But work very hard. If you work hard and if you’re sincere and seek authenticity, things will work out for you.
MATES: And which three advices would you give your younger self?
PATRICK: Aargh! I get asked this a lot and I’ve never managed to come up with a convincing answer. I’m trying to think of things that I kind of got wrong and I’m not saying I got everything right, I got plenty of things wrong, but more or less the key things I got right. I had good guidance. I was very dedicated to my studies and very fortunate that I was in a great learning environment which I shared with very talented, highly-motivated class-mates who later became studio colleagues. There was a great social dynamic and we were dedicated and passionate about our work. Once again, if anybody is wondering how you can make it in a world with so much competition, it’s no big secret: some talent helps, but it’s essentially about hard work. The second piece of advice would be, and this more aimed at students, really be bold during your studies. Art & design academies exist as safe environments for experimentation, a space where more or less nothing can go wrong. So really make the most of that beautiful and very, very special opportunity that you have. Don’t play safe while you’re studying. And the third one would be: Open closed doors. Whilst I was studying, I spent a lot of my time in the ‘wrong’ departments and I really encourage my students to do the same. For example, if you don’t know anything about industrial design, get in touch with industrial designers because they probably won’t know very much about what you’re doing, and between you this collaborative effort will result in wonderful things. It might be flawed, imperfect, but as a learning process, it is important to find a good balance between individual and collaborative work… and that ties in nicely back with OPEN_COLLAB again!
MATES: Perfect. So last but not least, where can our community find out more about your and your work?
PATRICK: Over recent years my work has evolved towards more non studio-based work so keep an eye open for exhibitions (five in Europe and Asia in 2020) and projects in public spaces: OPEN_COLLAB South Africa is a good example of this. Another way you can find about what I’m up to is via Instagram (@xpatrickthomas). I must add that I have serious reservations about social media, but right now, until something better comes along, that is one of the most effective channels. Needless to say, physical encounters, like this in Munich remain the best.
MATES: That’s it. So thanks for your time, Patrick.
If you’d like to know more about Patrick and his work, just check out & follow him on one of his Instagram Accounts: @xpatrickthomas @patrickthomastudio @open_collab @berlinstreetgraphics @klassethomas
MATES x TOCA ME: Creator’s Lab Talk & Workshop
We teamed up with the design experts from TOCA ME to enrich Munich’s creative scene with a unique new event series. Our Creator’s Lab Series features exceptional german & international designers and brings them to Munich for an intimate talk & workshop session. In a master class of max. 30 attendees you have the chance to not only meet your design hero and share thoughts over dinner, but to actually work together in an intensive workshop session and take home an individual and most singular artwork.
Our next Creator’s Lab is already in the making and planned to take place in the beginning of May 2020. Stay in touch to get informed which artist we’ll feature next or join our MATES Community to be amongst the first to get a chance for one of the limited tickets.
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